A little bit of personal philosophy to start the week…..
I’ve been in a position recently to think about why some of us obsess about cars so much. I remember a time back in 2011, a year or so after the sale of Saab to Spyker was completed, but when Saab were beginning to show the first signs of trouble. I was still writing Saabs United at the time and there was much debate going on about how things were going under Victor Muller’s leadership. I was a stout defender of Victor but there were a number of people who were critical. Some of them were extremely strong in their opinions.
There was one guy in particular, a guy so vehement in his criticism that he became one of the half-dozen or so people that I banned during my 7 years as a website administrator, after which he continued the tirade via email.
Most of the bullets he fired were a complete waste of time but one theme rang true – why are you doing this? Why do you spend so much time writing about this situation at Saab? Why do you write about cars so much? Is it really a productive use of your time? Does it benefit the world at all? Are you making the world a better place when there are people dying of preventable causes in various parts of the world and you’re sitting there writing obsessively about Saab cars?
It was a fair question then, and it remains so today.
Why cars? Why so much time spent on learning about them? Discussing them?
Are cars worthy?
Yes. I think they are.
The liberation of mass transport
From Karl Benz through to Armand Peugeot, Giovanni Agnelli, Henry Ford and Ferdinand Porsche, cars progressed from being indulgences for the elite to true instruments of mass liberation, bringing a modern world to a society hungry for progress.
Cars expand our collective horizon. They take us to meet new people and experience new places with greater efficiency than we ever had before.
Cars mean that we’re no longer bound to villages or even regions like our ancestors. Trips that took days just a century ago are now completed in hours, in air-conditioned comfort with Bluetooth audio and satellite navigation.
They say travel broadens the mind. It used to refer to inter-territorial travel but the car has made that accessible to nearly everyone. Today such a saying refers to international travel only. Anyone can explore the land they’re connected to, primarily because of the car.
That old village mentality is a thing of the past. Distance is not the barrier it used to be. Cars now carry families and friends to meet together every day. They carry them across town, or across the country.
Cars carry boyfriends and girlfriends to their first dates and a few years later they might just carry the same kids to their wedding.
Cars bring babies home from hospital for their first night under the family roof, just as they also carry the departed to their final resting place.
Cars carry pimply 15-year-olds to their first jobs. A few years later they carry them to university.
They carry mobile locksmiths, gardeners, plumbers, pet groomers, bankers, builders and baristas. A vehicle can be a workhorse, a mobile office or even a mobile showroom.
And then there’s the car industry itself, which employs millions around the world. These people work with cars their whole lives – driving them, designing them, building them, fixing them, financing and selling them. Cars have driven advancements in technology, whether it be in safety systems, cutting edge materials, engine efficiency or manufacturing processes – the automotive sector is a hub for innovation in all sorts of fields.
Cars are also the lifeblood of a number of critical industries. They generate huge dollars in manufacturing and in all forms of advertising. There’s a dedicated aftermarket industry serving a vast number of custom vehicle tastes. If you can dream it, someone out there can take your money and build it.
I don’t think we’ll see another too-big-to-fail decision like we saw with GM at the beginning of the global financial crisis. But don’t let that lull you into thinking that the automotive industry has become a lesser player in terms of driving research and development. Car companies remain at the cutting edge of consumer-oriented industry and the dollars they spend on contractors and suppliers generate dollars elsewhere in the economy.
Cars Bring Joy
There’s the joy of the first date, the first baby’s homecoming, and the joy of occasions with family and friends. But there are other times when the car is an intrinsic part of the joyful experience.
The thrill of your first drive.
The joy you have on the right road trip in the right car with the right song on the stereo and the right people in the car with you.
The joy of a winding road shared with you friends in their cars, travelling together for a lunch somewhere. Or just travelling.
The joy people get from artistic automotive design. Yes, cars can be art, just like your favourite chair, desk lamp or wrist watch. Good industrial design is an art form all of its own.
There’s joy in preserving an old car and joy in driving it. The joy of gathering around an old car with friends and fixing it together. Eric Bana said in his film “Love The Beast” that his Ford Falcon coupe was like a campfire that he and his mates would gather around, telling stories while they worked on the car together.
For some people, these moments lose their lustre fairly quickly but for many, they endure for a lifetime.
Those of us who spend a lot of time in the automotive sphere aren’t curing cancer. We’re not running a food bank or getting people off drugs. But don’t discount the enormous social good provided by the automobile over the last century or so.
Cars carry medicines to people in need. Their derivatives carry sick people to hospitals. They carry police and even soldiers to defend the places we live. Cars carry food to the hungry.
Cars changed the world. And while they’re not always used for good, the net effect of their invention has been overwhelmingly positive.
So are cars worthy?
I like to think they are. Cars are often the second most expensive investment that people make in their lifetime. We design cities around the need to move from place to place. Our world has become dependent on mobility.
But more than that, cars are intrinsically interesting. The engineering. The potential for man and machine to form an experience.
Put simply, cars bring happiness to a lot of people. It’s not curing cancer – I’ll leave that to the doctors – but sharing some of that happiness and trying to inspire it in other isn’t a bad thing, is it?